Policeman in kettle: “Is there anyone in need of medical attention?” Protester: “How much will it cost?!”
The vision of armed police kettling peaceful demonstrators protesting the latest stage of the privatisation of the NHS is an incredible insight into what’s happening in England. It’s striking that the end of the Union may be accelerated not by a positive vision of a Scottish future, but just a sense of disgust and fear at the emerging society being created by the Tory/Liberal coalition. Scotland aren’t leaving the Union, English social policy is going to destroy any reason to be part of it. In the space of a week we’ve had announcements of major new privatisations of roads, police and health, a tax beak for the rich, and a pay-drop for the poor.
On social policy Scotland and England are drifting apart – not because of any great radicalism on behalf of the SNP – but because England and Britain is being run by ideologues and the devolution settlement allows us some room to avoid this policy hell. The quality of spin and presentation by the Tories and the veneer of respectability offered by the Liberals is now wearing off, and the brutal truths exposed.
As Gerry Hassan writes in the Scotsman about ‘Fantasy Island Britain’:
“As many people know the UK is the fourth most unequal country in the rich world according to Danny Dorling, professor of human geography at Sheffield University. Moreover, according to Dorling on existing trends the UK is set to surpass Singapore, the US and Portugal and become the most unequal country in the entire developed world. That is a bit removed from the Union that many Labour politicians and others defend.”
As machine-gun toting police (don’t believe me?) restrain peaceful protestors you have to think that something has fundamentally broken about English society. Why should we be part of this?
Amongst it all is the sad betrayal / exposure of a supposedly liberal grouping.
As Polly Toynbee wrote: “It’s desperately sad to find Shirley Williams nitpicking over small concessions to avoid confronting the bill’s true nature, largely unchanged in its passage. The only purpose of this gigantic upheaval is to bring the market into virtually every aspect of the NHS. Otherwise what’s it for? Commissioners are compelled to tender out more services each year: the Guardian on Friday reported on all Devon’s child health services up for bids. Legal opinion is not in doubt that the bill opens the NHS to EU competition law: that can’t be conveniently “minimised”.”
Desperately sad? Yes. Hugely surprising? No. If the Lib Dems propping up a horrendous war on the poor and social values has become a non-story, we shouldn’t forget Labours part in dismantling the NHS. Before you discount this as the ramblings of a ‘nat’, read the words of Michael Meacher last year:
“Yesterday was a day of shame, the day they denationalised the NHS. Yet at the second reading of the Bill in the House of Commons the main line of defence of the increasingly isolated Andrew Lansley, who is clearly out of his depth, was that the Tories are only carrying on where Blair left off and completing the job he failed to finish. That is of course true inasmuch as New Labour converted NHS trusts into independent businesses (foundation trusts), introduced ISTCs (private treatment centres paid by public funds irrespective of the number of patients treated), gave NHS work to private hospitals and clinics and encouraged NHS patients to choose them, and developed HMO-style commissioning as in the US.”
The privatisation of the NHS is only one – so far most visible part – of the marketisation of not just our economy but our society. Under the cover of respectability these changes are now proceeding at a startling pace. As the papers reported last week: ‘Private companies could take responsibility for investigating crimes, patrolling neighbourhoods and even detaining suspects under a radical privatisation plan being put forward by two of the largest police forces in the country.’ This goes way beyond the role of G4S, Securicor and other companies in the past.
The home secretary, Theresa May, who has imposed a 20% cut in Whitehall grants on forces, has said frontline policing can be protected by using the private sector to transform services provided to the public. May said on Thursday that she hoped the “business partnership” programme would be in place next spring.
A 26-page “commercial in confidence” contract note has been sent to potential bidders to run all services that “can be legally delegated to the private sector”.
Simultaneous to these changes we see the extraordinary proposals to regionalise public pay and reduce parity of public workers. See more here.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union – which represents civil servants – said the plans would be “cruel, economically incompetent and counterproductive” at a time when public sector salaries and pensions were being cut.
And this at the time that the SNP have announced a ‘living wage’.
The SNP has pledged that every council controlled by the Nationalists after the May local elections will see a living wage for all employees.
The commitment, which was passed at the party’s spring conference in Glasgow on Saturday, mimics previous pledges for Scottish Government and NHS workers.
The change would see council workers earning at least £7.20 per hour.
We now see a gulf emerging between social policy north and south of the border. It represents a challenge for both Labour and the SNP. Can Labour articulate a voice that offers a different vision, when Ed Miliband seems silent on the relentless march of Blairite government. And can the SNP have the courage to live up the rhetoric of being a beacon of progressiveness? This is a real opportunity to create an alternative, not a replica. The driving forces behind constitutional change may well be the socio-economic policies being pursued in the south, not the national argument being held in the north.
As Gerry Hassan has concluded:
“The British state is, if not broken, badly damaged and corroded. The old pillars of the British establishment – church, banking, media moguls and politicians – have crumbled one by one leaving an unrestrained crony capitalism which isn’t about genuine wealth creation but monopoly, oligopoly and corporate self-interest.”